Celestial Polygamy

About 18 years ago, Eugene England published his essay, “On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20/4 (Winter 1987): 138-54, which has since been reprinted in a couple of different venues. A copy is available at the University of Utah Dialogue archive, here.

This article was an exercise in speculative theology, in which England took the position that the marriage relationship in the Celestial Kingdom will be monogamous, not polygynous.

He basically recited five reasons for his point of view:

1. A requirement so central to our future salvation should be firmly grounded in the scriptures, but this one (celestial polygamy) is not.

2. If polygamy is the highest marital law of heaven, surely the Lord would want us to practice it whenever and wherever we can on earth, but such is not the case.

3. That women can be sealed to more than one man, and that we do not assume a practice of celestial polyandry, suggests that men being sealed to more than one woman may not have the significance we assign to it.

4. He rejects the assumption that there will be a surplus of women for the CK.

5. The idea is destructive to women’s sense of identity and self-worth *now*.

Well, that’s a brief summary so that people can comment without having to go back and read the whole article if they don’t want to.

When I read the piece, I thought that, although it was definitely outside the box at the time, I could see it becoming a more and more mainstream position in the Church as time went on, maybe 20, 50, 80 or 100 years from then.

Well, we’re not quite to the 20th anniversary of the article, and certainly celestial polygamy is by no means dead in Mormon thought. But what do you think: is England’s position at least an acceptable mainstream option (if not yet the definitive position)? IE is it permissible to think about the CK in these monogamous terms? And if not, do you think we’re indeed moving in that direction, however slowly? Or is celestial polygamy going to be our default understanding for the foreseeable future?

80 comments for “Celestial Polygamy

  1. Matt Evans
    March 1, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    I think England worked backwards: I believe 5, therefore 1, 2, 3 and 4.

    It’s easy to find counter-examples for 1 and 2, consecration being an obvious example of a “celestial law” being irregularly taught and practiced in mortality.

  2. ed
    March 1, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    If the “mainstream position” is the one the church presents through lesson manuals, conference talks, missionary lessons, etc., then the mainstream position on anything related to polygamy is pretty much “no comment.”

    What lifelong active mormons believe and discuss among themselves about this, I don’t know. I wish I could do a poll.

    What senior church leaders believe and discuss among themselves about this, I’m even more curious, and less sure.

    (I agree with Matt Evan’s comment, though.)

  3. Rosalynde Welch
    March 1, 2005 at 2:05 pm

    I’m a life-long member, growing up with two active and faithful parents who proactively taught us the doctrines of the gospel (for a while we called our FHE “The School of the Prophets”!). It wasn’t until college that I discovered that some Mormons assumed that polygamy would be the universal arrangement in the celestial kingdom. (Recently I discovered that my own husband is one of those Mormons–eep! How could we have missed this particular discussion?!) My point is simply that it is entirely possible to be a completely mainstream, believing, committed and faithful Mormon and not assume that polygamy must be eternal.

  4. Kaimi
    March 1, 2005 at 2:09 pm

    I think that there are at least two big obstacles in any dismissal of Celestial polygamy:

    1. Past practices with certain righteous men. In particular, are we to assume that Leah (or Rachel), Bilhah, and Zilpah, will remarry other people in the Celestial Kingdom?

    2. D & C 132.

    That said, I’m not a fan of the idea of restored polygamy. It’s something I do hear members discuss sometimes, and the assumption usually seems to be that in the Celestial Kingdom, there will be some version of restored polygamy.

  5. March 1, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    The most important flaw in England’s reasoning is that monogamy would entail that sealings to second spouses after death don’t count. i.e. if my wife dies and I remarried I’m not *really* married to her, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Now I could see if England argued that for fairness and consistency there was polyandry in heaven. But his claims seem to contradict a lot. I think it’s more he doesn’t like it therefore it can’t be so. I’ll certainly admit I’m uncomfortable with the idea. But I think most of the arguments against it end up just being that sense of uncomfort most of us have.

    On the other hand, I do think men ought think about polyandry just to get equally uncomfortable. I don’t think any man ought assume women ought just get over this part of our history unless they can make peace with the inverted relationship.

  6. Matt Evans
    March 1, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    I fully agree with Rosalynde that views on the eternal role of polygamous marriage vary among committed and faithful members. I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter, though England’s argument doesn’t compel me and seems conclusion-driven.

  7. Christian Cardall
    March 1, 2005 at 2:16 pm

    The weakness of England’s #3 is that its basis is a present cultural bias against polyandry. Present cultural bias probably should not be taken as a reliable guide to cosmic reality. An alternative is that the logic can be reversed: The practice of sealing women to more than one man means that celestial polyandry should be taken just as seriously as celestial polygamy—a possibility buttressed by Joseph’s practice.

  8. March 1, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    Or, just maybe we have no idea what in the heck our relationships will be like in the world to come….

    yes, that same society that exists now will carry forward, but in what form? Jealousy, lust and selfishness, those too-often hallmarks of mortal interpersonal relationships, will be gone — what then will our relationships be like to each other? It seems to me that polygamy, monogamy or polyandry are inadequate markers for celestial relationships.

  9. danithew
    March 1, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    First I just want to say that I respect Eugene England very much … my mother took a LDS fiction class from him years ago. I felt like I was taking the same class by proxy since I read everything on the syllabus.

    Second, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pro-polygamy kind of person.

    However, it is hard for me to imagine that Old Testament prophets such as Abraham, Jacob and Moses are going to have to choose to give up some of the wives they had on earth.

    To be more specific for the sake of perspective … I can’t really imagine that Jacob will have to lose three of his wives for the sake of the monogamy principle. Losing Leah, Rachel, Bilhah or Zilpah would be a significant matter by itself … but from a celestial perspective wouldn’t he also be losing the progeny and descendants of those three wives as well? Suddenly the twelve tribes of Israel would be much less. If Jacob (Israel’s) twelve tribes aren’t eternal, what family is?

    Here’s a really fun verse for the politically correct:

    Doctrine and Covenants 132:39
    David?s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord.

    I’m not going to try and understand what it means when the Lord says “I gave them unto another.” What this seems to be stating in a very matter-of-fact manner is that David sinned so greatly he did not “inherit them out of the world.” Doesn’t this mean that if David had been more righteous “he” (singular) would have inherited “them” (plural) instead of losing them? That teaching appears to place at least some polygamous marriages very firmly into eternal reality.

  10. Kaimi
    March 1, 2005 at 2:28 pm

    And a related question — does any doctrinal weight still attach to early statements by church leaders that in the next life, the wives of mongamous members will be taken from them and given to more righteous, polygamous men?

    I know that Eugene England thinks that that statement has been doctrinally repudiated — he bases some of his argument on that assumption — but I don’t know that that doctrine (if it ever existed) has been officially repudiated. Has it?

  11. Christian Cardall
    March 1, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Oops…didn’t see Clark’s #5 before I posted #7.

  12. Katie
    March 1, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Kaimi and Danithew-

    I don’t think England is arguing that there will not be polygamy in the CK-period. I think he is arguing against the conception of a CK where polygamy is the normative structure and relationship type. I think he is saying that polygamous relationships established on earth will continue in the CK, but that it will be the exception not the rule.

  13. Last lemming
    March 1, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    In a just universe, whether or not there will be polygamy in the CK would be strictly a matter of demographics and choice. If there is a surplus of women and they are willing to be plural wives, they will be allowed to be plural wives and vice versa. Certainly nobody will be in a plural marriage that they do not want to be in, but similarly, nobody will be forced to be single for lack of an available monogomous partner.

  14. danithew
    March 1, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    From what Eugene England is saying, I am drawing the conclusion that he believed people could be sealed for time and all eternity, live worthily and faithfully to those covenants, and then not be sealed on the other side because polygamy is wrong.

    It seems a bit odd to think about. A couple in the celestial kingdom is overheard in conversation. One says to the other, “Look there’s my ex with his wife. I used to be sealed for time and all eternity to him. I’m so glad that now I’m with you.”

  15. Jack
    March 1, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    Ah, hang it all!

    Why can’t we get it through our heads that polygamy is a type?! It’s a crude type for a pattern that repeats itself at cosmic intervals. It’s most recent display was manifest in a way that was supportable (barely) by the concurrent culture and is forever etched in the foundation of our Faith. And though for us today such an arrangement is unthinkable, I’m glad we have the “shadow” of polygamy in our LDS consciousness–if for no other reason than it causes us to ask questions the likes of which we are discussing right now. Each one of us is a walking representation of the “Beehive” principle. We are a miraculous configuration of countless intelligences at various levels of influence working together under the influence of a grand or governing intelligence. All of us–men and women alike–find ourselves somewhere in the configuration of the body of Christ–He being the head. We read that the Church will be “adorned as a bride” and that Christ is the bridegroom. The marraige then, is the union between Christ and His Church–His body. It’s a sort of resurrection of His body on a cosmic level–a welding together of the two without which there cannot be a fulness of joy. Men and women alike comprise the body and are–collectively–the bride. The bride is unified in a way so as to be considered “one”. We, therefore, may view the marraige of Christ as monogamous in a certain sense. But it is also quite polygamous in another sense–a sense that can be a little uncomfortable for men if considered too narrowly.

  16. danithew
    March 1, 2005 at 3:09 pm


    I am just fine with a celestial kingdom where polygamy isn’t the norm. It would be kind of be frustrating to attend church in the eternities and see that Abraham’s family takes up the first seven rows every Sunday.

    I have this funny image in my head. A speaker is teaching about continuing courtship after marriage and says something obnoxious like “Group dating can still be fun!”

    Kaimi, thanks for fixing the errors in my name-field. Usually those electronic cookies are so convenient … until they start replicating my errors! Arghhhhhhhhhhh!

  17. March 1, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know if he adresses it, but the fullness of the priesthood was/is explicitly administered polygamously. While emaphasis on this has waned since the turn of the 20th century, you have to discount (which we in a sense already have) everything Joseph Smith believed about his mission and about the Temple.

  18. HL Rogers
    March 1, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    J. Stapley: “the fullness of the priesthood was/is explicitly administered polygamously”

    What do you mean by that specifically?

  19. Rosalynde Welch
    March 1, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    I think Kaimi and J. make important points: polygamy, however distasteful to modern sensibilities, cannot easily be excised from our history. But as I have argued elsewhere, contemporary LDS marriage culture–emphasizing mutuality, unity, equality, and emotional fulfillment–is distinctly inimical to polygamous arrangements. Both can’t be simultaneously and totalizingly correct: we can have the second half of section 132, or we can have the Proclamation, but I’m not sure we can have both at the same time. Since I accept both as prophetic utterances, I infer a final flexibility in the social organization of the family.

  20. March 1, 2005 at 3:55 pm

    “Since I accept both as prophetic utterances, I infer a final flexibility in the social organization of the family.”

    That’s what I was trying to say in my number 8. Why are we so eager to apply our own constructs to the celestial family?

  21. March 1, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    Rosalynde, I like your final synthesis. HL, I was refering to the totality of temple ordinances.

  22. Kingsley
    March 1, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    Perhaps Joseph’s famous comment about gazing into heaven for 5 minutes & those anecdotes where he says “If I told you all I knew you’d kill me” point towards an celestial organization & culture so radical it’s not to be comprehended at the moment. I’m with Steven E. — a society devoid lust, jealousy, etc. might be less rigidly structured.

  23. Kingsley
    March 1, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    Holy badly written Batman. So that’s why we’re forbidden to drink.

  24. March 1, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Or, just maybe we have no idea what in the heck our relationships will be like in the world to come….

    I think you’ve hit a very important point.

    BTW, having lived in a quasi-polygamous situation (more than one woman in the house, but I was only involved with one — a friend stayed with us to finish up her Master’s thesis and then caught up with her family who had been transferred by the military) it is a distinctly different situation in that women can bond and kind of leave you as a guy feeling pretty extraneous. It was an interesting dynamic, one my wife really enjoyed and one I wouldn’t care to really repeat.

    “The world has no use for the drone” isn’t the half of it …

  25. danithew
    March 1, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    I am pretty much in agreement with Rosalynde that polgyamy and equality are not mutually agreeable. Inevitably a man who has more than one wife will prefer one wife over another. Favoritism for one wife over the other, and rivalries between plural wives seems to be a perpetually ugly reality in Genesis. And favoritism for one wife over the other seems to have especially nasty effects on how the children of various wives feel towards each other (though there is a small indication that Isaac and Ishmael got along to a certain extent when they were adults — at least for a family funeral). Inherited issues of favoritism and rivalry are about the only way I can understand the way Joseph was treated by his brothers. But even the supremely graceful and just Joseph shows extreme favoritism towards the brother from the same mother.

    There are certainly indications in the Hebrew Bible that polygamy fell out of favor with the Jews and the house of Israel. Lehi’s wife Sariah seems to be having an awful lot of children on her own. At least there is nothing in the text that hints at Lehi having another wife or concubine as the Genesis patriarchs did.

    Does the end of polygamy mean that the burden of childbearing falls more heavily on individual women in monogamous relationships? I don’t recall any story of a wife in a polygamous arrangement having more than 4 or 5 children on her own. Maybe I need to search the scriptures a little more for examples. I sometimes hear of LDS women who have anywhere from 8-12 children on their own and yet I am not sure if any female scriptural example is being followed in this. Perhaps the Book of Mormon’s Sariah is a powerful suggestion that is being followed somehow. After all she has Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, Sam, Jacob and Joseph. And I think Nephi mentions sisters somewhere in the text. At this point I’m almost hoping Lehi took a concubine. But honestly, besides Sariah, I can’t think of another scriptural example of a woman who has so many children on her own. Maybe I need to look further.

  26. Kaimi
    March 1, 2005 at 4:43 pm


    A problem may be infant mortality. As I’m sure you recall from Guatemala, a _lot_ of kids die very young without modern medicine and vaccines. Many older women had 10 or 12 or even 15 pregnancies, with only six or seven kids who actually lived.

  27. Janey
    March 1, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    Eugene England’s first reason for questioning polygamy (that there is little scriptural basis for polygamy) can be applied to eternal marriage in general, either polygamous or monogamous. Besides D&C 132 and 131, the scriptures are silent about the eternal fate of the family unit. The Church’s current emphasis on and fascination with the family is a direct descendant of our polygamous past.

    I agree with the posters who conclude that we might be surprised at what arrangement we have in the eternities. Certainly, if the “same sociality that exists among us here will exist among us there” (D&C 130:2), then the ancient patriarchs are going to be as surprised as we are at living in the 19th century sociality that existed when Joseph Smith wrote that revelation.

  28. danithew
    March 1, 2005 at 5:11 pm


    Excellent point. I have to say though that I never talked much with anyone in Guatemala about childbirth or miscarriage rates, on a personal or impersonal level. It never occurred to me until now that women there might be suffering that many miscarriages. I was simply amazed on more than one occasion at the number of children (and adults) who had to fit on a single bed in a one-room sheet-metal shack with a dirt floor. Which then leads to the next question as to how the parents manage to ever get any privacy …

    Actually though, your point about live birth rates makes me wonder even more about Sariah and the number of children she must have had. After all, at least two boys and maybe some girls were born to Lehi in the desert wilderness. How in the world did she have so many surviving children on her own? On the boat, Nephi describes his parents as “stricken in years.” I’m trying to do the math here … 4 sons (maybe some daughters) + eight years in the wilderness + some time to build the boat and get it to sea …

    Assuming (as I always have) that Lehi is monogamous, I’m ready to nominate Sariah as the wife-of-a-prophet-with-the-most-kids at this point. Any others even close? If Lehi had another wife or concubine, Nephi would have had to mention it, right?

  29. A. Greenwood
    March 1, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Until we’re perfect, Danithew, *nothing* and equality are compatible. I don’t think that’s just a problem with polygamy. We know that in at least some senses we will all be considered to be part of the same family when we go to Heaven. Maybe we’ll even be sealed that way. Which means that we’re going to have to learn a lot more about equality.

  30. danithew
    March 1, 2005 at 5:21 pm

    Kingsley, have you been consuming one of those Red Bull and vodka concoctions? I understand the caffeine sharpens the mind and the alcohol loosens the inhibitions.

    That and a good bit of reading could explain your witticisms … :)

  31. Shawn Bailey
    March 1, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    Steven M (Ethesis)’s comment about his quasi-polygamous experience made me smile.

    When I volunteered to serve as a “pa” on our stake pioneer trek soon after my mission, I did not expect to be assigned to preside for a week over a pretend family along side two pretend wives. Apparently the stake young mens/young womens leaders accidentally lined up one more “ma” than they needed—and didn’t have the heart to leave anyone home.

    Based on that little experiment, I can confirm Rosalynde’s point that polygamy in practice (well, very limited pretend practice!) is difficult to square with mutuality, equality, unity, and fulfillment. At times I was irrelevant. At times I was simply outnumbered. At times I was caught in the middle of a bitter battle for my attention. And being the nerd that I am, I think that this battle was mostly about beating a competitor, not the prize awaiting the winner! And I’m sure both women (truly nice people—I just wouldn’t want to be married to BOTH of them) were not delighted to be put in this situation.

    I do think that this is something that we cannot understand without more information about the Celestial Kingdom. Not that efforts to understand the doctrine that we do have or England’s work aren’t meaningful. They just may be tragic in the sense that they cannot really succeed given the puzzle pieces that we currently have. In the meantime, we may be left with opinions that we deduce from a combination of scripture, culture, intuition, etc.

    This situation brings to mind the visit that Elder Hales made to my mission. After delivering an inspiring talk on mission work, he asked for questions from the elders. Elder Smith’s hand shot up. He enquired about polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom. Elder Hales was visibly annoyed that the question did not address any of the points he just made about missionary work. My Mission President was even more visibily upset (shaking his head, grimmacing, etc.) Elder Hales gestured to his wife who was sitting on the stand and said something like “Perhaps sister Hales would like to respond to your question Elder. I know she has some thoughts on the subject.” With a smile, sister Hales passed. It was a graceful dodge that implied there was room for discussion in the absence of easy answers.

  32. Shawn Bailey
    March 1, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    Elder Hales asked for questions from all missionaries, sisters included. Apologies. Particularly to the zone in Natal where it was me, my companion, and four sets of sisters. Note to self: proof-read BEFORE clicking “make comment.”

  33. Beau Sorensen
    March 1, 2005 at 6:44 pm

    Sorry if this was answered earlier, but I didn’t see it up above. As far as temple sealings are concerned, one man can be married to multiple women (polygamy), but one woman cannot be married to multiple men (polyandry). I know this is the current situation (according to the Church Handbook of Instructions), but were women once able to be sealed to multiple men? I thought the current status quo was always the norm.

  34. Laura
    March 1, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    I haven’t read England’s article, but I question Kevin’s summary #3 with regards to not practicing polyandry. Women who are deceased may be sealed to all men to whom they were wedded in life, once all husbands are also deceased. There are lots of women in my pedigree chart sealed to more than one husband, just as there are men sealed to more than one wife. Is what’s good for the goose good for the gander?

  35. Christian Y. Cardall
    March 1, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    It can happen only by proxy. Sometime in the last couple of decades it became allowed for women to be sealed to more than one man if (I think) all parties concerned are dead.

    Admittedly, this is probably just to allow descendents to feel like they’ve covered all the bases, and I think we can be confident it was not intended to have the theological significance I suggested (#7). While I referred to Joseph, the argument is dubious as it conflicts with Joseph’s rationale for polyandry, namely, that marriages by earthly authority weren’t really marriages at all. Still, it’s fun to think about.

  36. maria
    March 1, 2005 at 9:12 pm


    Your story about Elder Hales made me think of an experience I had with Bob Millett of BYU. I met with him one day to discuss some major questions I’d been having about polygamy. At the time, my testimony was wavering and I was feeling very, very bitter about the whole rotten deal. So I blurted it all out to him, expressed all my concerns, and sheepishly finished by stating something to the effect of “you must think I am a really bad person that I have all these doubts.” I have never forgotten his response: “Some of the greatest women of our church have approached me with similar questions.” Knowing that he is closely associated with many GAs, RS board members, apostles’ wives, etc., the sentiment was even more comforting.

    On a somewhat tangential note: A few years ago I was reading the biography of my great great great grandfather Dudley Leavitt. I was literally sick to my stomach (I think I actually threw up at one point while reading the book) when reading about Dudley flirting with new potential wives at dances and other social events while his current wives looked on bitterly. Once, shortly after marrying his wife Thirza (the wife I am descended from), Thirza caught him chasing/flirting with another woman (whom he eventually married, too). Thirza was so upset with his chasing another woman so closely after their own marriage (I guess there were unwritten rules about that?) that she left him for a while and went home to live with her parents. Go Thirza! I’m truly proud to be descended from her and not one of the more reticent wives. It’s my guess that previous wives feeling neglected or like they weren’t getting the attention or respect they deserved (like Thirza’s situation) would have been pretty common.

    Which brings me to my point–one of my main arguments as to why I don’t believe polygamy is coming back around anytime soon: if at the present time the men of the church are constantly being chastised that they need to be better husbands to their ONE wife (this seems to be a theme in priesthood session of late, according to my husband and many of the bloggers here)–what makes anyone think that God will want men to take on any ADDITIONAL wives to subject to the same treatment? Until the brethren of the church collectively live up to their highest potential as husbands to one wife, I doubt that God will be reinstituting polygamy.

    But then again, as evidenced by my own ancestry, I don’t know if all the men in the 1800s were doing such a great job treating all the wives nicely anyway. But I just wanted to throw these thoughts out here, for what it’s worth.

  37. XON
    March 1, 2005 at 9:22 pm

    Thought experiment:

    The defining ‘functional’ group of the vital force in CK will be, for lack of a more commonly used term, The Priesthood Quorum. There will be only one. Each man within it will be: Equal to his brethren; and Engaged in the same work as our Father. The teaching of three degrees of glory suggests that this group will be finite (in number, for you strict grammarians and theologians).

    That work will entail creation and exaltation of ‘autos in embryo’. The eternal nature of gender as laid out in the Proclamation strongly implies that this cannot be performed without an existentially complimentary partner.

    Feelings of fondness and love restricted to a particular individual would be inconsistent with omniscience and omnipotence. If we are capable of loving all, fully, then an attachment to only one would actually create one of those logical paradoxes that ‘would cause God to cease to be God’. (One could prefer the immediate company of one over another, but could not really love one more than another. . .)

    So, the discriminator of who we partnered with to enact our own plans of salvation would depend not on their identity, but on their nature. Again, 3 degrees suggest that this will be a finite population also.

    Perhaps individual, differentiated identity will become much less important to each of us, as our essential nature becomes infinitely more ‘important’ to us. The important ‘urge’ on both sides will be only to find a counterpart who is ‘physically’ (in the sense of physics, not physique) able to ‘endure’ the presence of the other.

    One of the implications that my addled mind can grasp would be that our mortal marriage would occupy the same role as, say, a best and warmest friend from school, or other formative learning or training event — fully as qualified as us, and preferred for reasons that have their locus in ‘the past’, but not inherently necessary to the fulfillment even of the proximate next steps of our experience for which we were preparing. Doesn’t mean we won’t create with our ‘First Spouse’, but doesn’t mean we are restricted to that, and other, greater considerations would take precedence over historical attachments.

    Does the fact that we are socialized to incorporate our married identity so deeply into the definition of our selves lead us to incorrect assumptions of the role of individual identity in the life of a celestial being?

    (I think I just sprained at least one cortex. Time for a cookie.)

  38. A. Greenwood
    March 1, 2005 at 9:32 pm

    An interesting experiment, XON, and very delicately phrased.

    When I’ve had thoughts on these lines, I’ve also had counterthoughts. To wit: isn’t it possible that we would still have a unique creative relationship with just one celestial being? Perhaps as a way of acknowleding our history, our rootedness in telestial and limited conditions? I am struck by the fact, for instance, that Christ appears to me to be both equal to the father but also acknowledge him as a superior. I see no present necessity for the Father’s being a superior so I can only conclude that some notion of what is due the Father comes into play.

    Also, is it really true that we could learn to love everyone equally? It could well be that our love for many celestial beings is derivative of the love we have for our spouse–we learn to love them through her. It could also be that our temporal life together gives us a sort of fellow feeling and experience that cannot be shared, simply because it wasn’t shared when the important events of our mortal probation happened.

  39. XON
    March 1, 2005 at 9:45 pm


    Your insightful critique of my thought experiment was pretty much the only thing that kept me from getting somewhat depressed formulating it. Especially your observation about what we know of the relationship between the Father and the Son. When I proof-read it, it seemed so nihilistic.

    And yet, the hallmark of all the situations you posit is differentiation. Every time I either wander or charge down this particular line of thought, I inevitably find myself circling around the concept of infinity. Where it gets me is that all of the ‘preferences’ if you will, that are implied in your questions are somehow ‘swallowed up’ when compared to an infinite spirit. Sort of how the difference between how much our economy values me and how much it values Bill Gates, Nate, or Kaimi is really big, when those are the end-points of the spectrum, but becomes nearly invisible when the spectrum includes the whole of human economic activity. (Not the greatest metaphor, but, hey, this is “live TV!”)

  40. watkinator
    March 2, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    Man, too bad I missed this post. This has been a great conversation waiting to happen in my mind.

    Just a thought on our capacity to love for A Greenwood and XON, can we eventually become just like God or not? If we can, and I think that this is what is behind what Joseph Smith taught about becoming like God, then why couldn’t we love everyone equally successfully just like God? Realistically I know that men here in this life fail miserably at this. We fail miserably most of the time with only one wife. If in the next life we (men and women) can love unconditionally then not only will the men love all of their wives equally, but the jealousy between the women would also cease because they would know their husbands true love for them and they would love all other wives and be happy for them. Someone way earlier wrote about how how the relationship of Christ to the church is symbolized like a marriage and I think that this can teach us something else too. I am not jealous if God or Jesus shows love to anyone else because I am secure in my relationship to him and his love for me. Could this not be the way a celestial marriage would work? Granted, it does all hinge on being able to love unconditionally like God.

  41. Stephen Hancock
    March 2, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    Jacob 2: 30 tends to say that monogamy is the rule and polygamy is the exception. I don’t see any reason that should change in the hereafter to any great extent.
    As concerns women being sealed by proxy to all possible husbands, we should remember that all proxy work is done so that those who have died can have the opportunity to accept it. It doesn’t mean that those people are actually sealed, as I understand it, just that the opportunity has been provided. Again, it would seem that the rule in this life would be indicative, perhaps, of what is to come.

  42. March 2, 2005 at 4:02 pm

    I’m not sure that a fair reading of Jacob 2:30, especially considering its context. (People living under the law of Moses and struggling to do just that) I don’t think it says much about what the celestial law would be one way or an other.

  43. Kevin Barney
    March 2, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    One of the reasons I was curious about people’s reactions to England’s idea is that the Church has become very anti-polygamy. We resent people lumping fundamentalists in with us, and it is a PR stain that doesn’t go away easily, so we almost overcompensate in our disdain for and rejection of contemporary polygamy. If polygamy were all of a sudden declared legal by the U.S. Supreme Court, would leaders of the Church do backflips and issue a bulletin that we’re back in the game? It would never happen. In this mortal realm, we’re done with polygamy for good.

    So I wonder to what extent that anti-polygamy attitude begins to bleed into our theology, which historically has contemplated at least the possibility of polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom.

    A problem with England’s view is that we do, like most contemporary cultures, allow *serial* polygamy. That is, you can have more than one spouse as long as you only have one at a time. That works fine during mortality, but what happens in the hereafter, when all of those spouses are alive at once? Most religionists don’t face the issue, because they don’t believe marriage relationships survive the grave. That we do is pretty unique. Polygamy is a convenient ordering principle for dealing with that situation, and given the historic practice, it kind of makes sense that we would think of things that way. Elder Oaks openly talks about how he expects to have both of his wives in the hereafter; are we going to tell him that, no, that’s not right, and he (or his wives, or all of them) is going to have to choose just one, sealing notwithstanding?

  44. Julie in Austin
    March 2, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    “Elder Oaks openly talks about how he expects to have both of his wives in the hereafter”

    citation, please?

  45. wendy
    March 2, 2005 at 5:19 pm

    Julie — Oaks refers to his second wife as his “eternal companion”; hope that doesn’t come as a surprise to his first wife:

    “Four years after we made that plan I was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles–something we never dreamed would happen. Realizing then that the Lord had different plans and different timing than we had assumed, I resigned as a justice of the supreme court. But this was not the end of the important differences. When I was 66, my wife June died of cancer. Two years later–a year and a half ago–I married Kristen McMain, the eternal companion who now stands at my side.”


  46. annegb
    March 2, 2005 at 5:23 pm

    My husband is still sealed to his second wife (I am the third), she is a dear friend, although not active, but I sincerely expect to have her with him in the afterlife. I love her, I don’t care. She can do all the work. Plus I’ve promised my husband to so many women who want him (he does the dishes and cooks) that I figure all I’ll have to do is lay around and read in my cabin in the woods.

    I’m not being facetious, guys, I don’t care. I don’t want to do all the work.

  47. annegb
    March 2, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    PS, now he’s not thrilled about being so freely shared and having all those wives. He thinks I’m crazy.

    Nobody say anything.

  48. Christian Cardall
    March 2, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    Julie, if sequential sealings aren’t real, it makes a complete mockery of the sealing power and its purpose on binding on earth and in heaven. If the order of heaven is monogamy, the prophets should obtain this information from the Lord and start making sequential marriages for time only.

  49. Keith
    March 2, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Sephen: “Jacob 2: 30 tends to say that monogamy is the rule and polygamy is the exception.”

    Clark: “I’m not sure that a fair reading of Jacob 2:30, especially considering its context”

    I agree with Stephen here regarding the rule and the exception. Jacob may be given to a people under the law of Moses (though Nephi says the law’s become dead to them and they understand more than the law of Moses), but what he describes seems to the be the more commonly held rule throughout the scriptural history we have and polygamy seems to be more the exception.

  50. Stephen Hancock
    March 2, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    Sephen: “Jacob 2: 30 tends to say that monogamy is the rule and polygamy is the exception.�

    Clark: “I�m not sure that a fair reading of Jacob 2:30, especially considering its context�

    In addition to Keith’s comment, I would add that Jacob references historical frameworks outside of his own by virtue of the fact that he is saying polygamy is not permissable in his own historical moment.

  51. Julie in Austin
    March 2, 2005 at 6:21 pm

    Christian Cardall–

    I’m not sure why you directed that comment at me. I wasn’t doubting it; just wondering the context of his remarks (i.e, was it directly about polygamy?)

  52. March 2, 2005 at 7:04 pm

    Keith, if we date things from the Patriarchs up to when the practice fell away, either among the Jews or the Nephites, how can you say polygamy was the exception? We’ve got a few millennia of polygamy and then about 600 years of non-polygamy among the Nephites and perhaps a couple centuries among the Jews to the coming of Christ. In our own dispensation we have about 60 years polygamy and about 100 years without. Yet even that last 100 years has de facto polygamy in terms of sealings for the dead. I don’t quite see the basis for your claim. It seems that polygamy is by far the usual condition.

    I also don’t think one can escape from this by saying that the Nephites had the higher law. The fact was that they were abusing the polygamy doctrine they’d brought from Israel. So God commanded them to stop it. I don’t think one can separate out that abuse from the scripture, as some are suggesting. Further I think the fact most people practicing polygamy do end up abusing spouses in various ways affects how God can reveal it. (I don’t think 19th century Mormons did much better BTW) But that seems a different matter from how a celestial people would live it. It’s just that there have been precious few celestial people around. One wonders what a fuller account of events in 4th Nephi would tell us.

    BTW – I agree with Kevin that our anti-polygamy attitudes due to apostates affects how we view the theology. That’s probably doubly true in the 1930’s when the church had big problems with apostates.

  53. Keith
    March 2, 2005 at 7:52 pm

    “The fact was that they were abusing the polygamy doctrine they’d brought from Israel. So God commanded them to stop it.”

    Do we have any evidence that anyone in the BofM righteously practiced polygamy? I guess I read Jacob to be comdemning them for practicing polygamy altogether (not simply abusing it), except in those instances where God commanded otherwise.

    I agree that some of the anti-polygamy attitude may come from our reaction to apostates. I suspect much more of it comes from the soul-wrenching anguish of the possibility of having to share the person you love and with whom you are one with somebody else. It seems to go against everything we believe about love, fidelity, intimacy, oneness, etc.

  54. a random John
    March 2, 2005 at 8:55 pm


    There you go with the equality and perfection thing again! The scriptures seem to contradict you. Where is the evidence of “equality” in the CK? Could you define it for me?

  55. March 2, 2005 at 11:39 pm

    What I find interesting is that in the 1800’s the Church was brutally criticized for the practice of it’s men (though a very slim minority) having more than one wife; afterall, sex with multiple partners?

    Now, the Church is an ardent defender of the one husband, one wife doctrine, while the rest of the secular world readily accepts the practice of multiple sex partners, without any commitment of marriage.

    As for the Celestial Kingdom, I choose to believe that the same agency that existed in the pre-mortal world, the same agency that exists in this mortal world, will continue to exist in the Celestial world. Those who have multiple wives here on earth, consecutively or sequintially, will have them in the Celestial Kingdom based on the sealing power and the righteousness of the individual. If my wife dies, and I choose not to remarry, I will have only her. On the other hand, if I do choose to remarry, a tribute to the wonderful marriage I now enjoy with Dorthey, and do so in the temple (sealed), I will have the pleasure of two wonderful relationships for eternity.

    Just an interesting aside: One of my aunts was married to a man, and the two of them had a son. The husband and son were killed in an auto accident. She remarried, a man who had also lost his wife to death. Neither of their previous marriages were solemnized in the temple. They were married civily in the temple to each other, and then each acted as proxy for the others’ previous spouse and they were sealed to their deceased spouses. They then lived happily ever after (well, for some 40 years) with each other. Talk about love.

  56. Christian
    March 2, 2005 at 11:50 pm

    Julie, my apologies, I mistakenly interpreted your curt query as a defiant denial of polygamy in heaven. Like Clark and others, I find that position (which I now know is not yours) hard to defend if one wants to maintain faith in the prophets. Rather then reach for eternal monogamy, when I have a believing hat on that requires me to believe in the prophets and eternity I prefer to feel better about the apparent inequality by considering polyandry. When I have an unbelieving hat on—well, that cuts this and not a few other Gordian knots quite nicely.

    I too was interested to hear more about what had actually been said.

  57. Sheri Lynn
    March 3, 2005 at 12:11 am

    Kelly, I loved the story about your aunt. Definitely loving people.

    Annegb, I am mostly with you, but I still say the celestial BEACH is going to beat the celestial MOUNTAINS for living the true exalted-hermit lifestyle. Imagine the beachcombing at low tide. The sunsets. A shrimp net that never gets tangled.

  58. mike
    March 3, 2005 at 11:16 am

    Just to clear up any confusion regarding women and sealings to multiple men, from the CHI:

    Living Women

    A living woman may be sealed to only one husband. If she is sealed to a husband and later divorced, she must receive a cancellation of that sealing from the First Presidency before she may be sealed to another man in her lifetime (see “Applying for a Cancellation of Sealing or a Sealing Clearance” on this page).

    Deceased Women

    A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life.

  59. Miquayla
    March 3, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    Does this mean the wife has to choose between husbands she’s sealed to, or does she get to be sealed to all of them? What if one of her husbands had never married before? Does he then get to pick a new wife?

  60. Christian Y. Cardall
    March 3, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    Good questions, Miquayla. Would that the prophets, seers, and revelators would obtain and disclose the answers. Because the issues are entangled with the difficult PR minefield that is polygamy, it seems likely these are among the things whose resolution must wait until the Millenium.

  61. Miquayla
    March 3, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    So I guess you’re saying that only women (not men) may have to wait until after the Resurrection to see if they’re *really* sealed to the spouses they’ve been sealed to. Men, on the other hand (like Dallin H. Oaks) are assured that if they are all faithful, they will be polygamous in the life to come. Is this accurate?

  62. greenfrog
    March 3, 2005 at 7:43 pm

    As I understand the sealing power administered in the temples, I am as sealed to my father as I am to my wife. And, for that matter, I am as sealed to Joseph Smith (via several intermediate sealings) as I am to my father.

    While we typically adopt a nice, modern, nuclear family concept of the hereafter, I think XON’s contemplations are closer to our doctrines than a road of single-family dwellings occupied by ageless, timeless parents and children.

  63. Christian Y. Cardall
    March 3, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    Miquayla, a woman can only be sealed to more than one man by proxy after she’s dead, so in this life a woman can only know that she’s sealed to one man. If she has married others and would like to be sealed to them, the best she can do is ask friends or relatives to do it by proxy after she’s dead. Presumably in the spirit world she could know what’s going on, and wouldn’t have to wait until the resurrection (so I wasn’t being very precise when I referred to the Millenium).

    My guess is that doctrinally the Brethren expect women to be sealed to only one man in eternity, but have allowed this practice so that descendants can feel all the bases are covered with respect to temple work being completed.

  64. annegb
    March 3, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    Christian, as I understand this, a woman can be sealed to more than one man after THEY BOTH die, everybody has to be dead. Then in the spirit world she is given the chance to choose. Oh, they have to be men she was married to.

    Like I am sealed to my third husband, but if we both die, my family could (they wouldn’t, but they could) have me sealed to my dead first husband as well. I think it’s just the church’s way of making sure all the bases are covered.

  65. annegb
    March 3, 2005 at 9:42 pm

    Kelly, welcome back! Are you feeling better? I love your story. I think that’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. I would gladly be the proxy for my husband’s ex-wife to be sealed to him if she died. I love her. I already said that, I know, but I mean it. I couldn’t live with her, but it feels right to me.

  66. Christian Y. Cardall
    March 3, 2005 at 10:00 pm

    annegb, we haven’t been told the woman will be given the chance to choose. Suppose Alice was sealed to Bob, and then Alice marries Craig after Bob dies. If Bob has been righteous, it would offend the sensibilities of many (men?) to suppose that Alice could freely choose to undo that sealing just because she’d rather be with Craig. It might be that a proxy sealing of Alice to Craig would only become valid if Bob were judged unworthy of exaltation.

    I myself would hope that women would be given great latitude in such matters (particularly if celestial polygamy turned out to be practiced), but for many people such freedom is hard to swallow when they have strong feelings about the sacredness and permanence that sealings are supposed to represent.

  67. March 4, 2005 at 12:09 am

    You know, maybe we just don’t understand the full scope of the sealing power.

  68. Sheri Lynn
    March 4, 2005 at 1:24 am

    When Susan Smith drowned her children on purpose and without any apparent remorse, I took enormous comfort in the realization that in the Celestial Kingdom her children will be sealed to the best possible parents and that all damage done to them will be completely healed. They will have the chance to grow up and have celestial marriages, too, right?

    But she threw them away forever. What an awful thing. What a pitiable thing. That case occured while my husband was being given his new member discussions, so our understanding of the eternal family comes in part from a clear idea of who may not have it, and what that will cost them.

    I figure it will all work out in the end for those who deserve it. Here we are trying to solve in a few hours or decades or a couple of centuries of thinking what God has all eternity to put right.

  69. Bookner
    March 4, 2005 at 3:44 am

    Per XON’s post in #37, and a follow up in #62:

    If XON’s thought experiment is accurate, then why is marriage and marriage sealings an ordinance of this life only? And why must one be married/sealed to (a) specific spouse(s), rather than to all other CK qualified spouses/people, or why seal any couple to each other at all in this life? So the doctrine would be let’s all just qualify for the CK and then we’re all there . . . But sealing to at least one spouse matters because apparently the CK may contain some people who qualify for the CK, but not for the highest degree thereof because they lack sealing to a spouse.

    Re posts #44 & #45 about Elder D.H. Oaks’ two wives: Pres. H.B. Lee in a poem about his two wives said “that we three might more fitted for eternity be.” Don’t ask for the site.

  70. annegb
    March 4, 2005 at 9:42 am

    I don’t know what we have and haven’t been told, Christian, but I believe the rules will be fair. It would not be fair to force a woman to be sealed to a man she doesn’t want to be sealed to, or vice versa. I think it will work out, really. I’m not worried about that part of it.

    The only thing I’m worried about is how much longer I’m going to have to try to be good.

  71. Miquayla
    March 4, 2005 at 11:55 am

    What if one person wants to be married to someone for eternity and the other partner doesn’t? With sealed people becoming divorced w/o their sealings getting cancelled, widows/widowers remarrying/resealing and just plain unrighteousness’ invalidating some sealings, who’s to say *who* is going to be sealed to whomever they think they’re sealed to, anyway?

  72. Miquayla
    March 4, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    And if this life isn’t fair, who’s to say the next life will be? I’m sure Elder Oak’s second wife didn’t dream of being in a polygamous relationship when she grew up…

  73. Sheri Lynn
    March 4, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    I know that my Heavenly Father exists, that His Only Begotten Son died hideously for me, that They know me personally and care about what happens to me. Why should I ‘what if’ myself out of that testimony by doubting that the next stage of eternal progression will be worse than this one, assuming that I prove myself worthy of better?

    I’m not jealous. Whatever will make us happier is okay with me. The Godhead have a better idea of what that is going to be than I do. Sometimes I think that the purest faith would utter just 16-word prayers: “Thy will be done, and I thank thee for that in the Name of thy Son.”

    I just know that human beings on this side of the veil are going to disappoint us more often than not, so I understand why we are expected to try to keep just ONE marriage relationship headed on a celestial path.

  74. Sheri Lynn
    March 4, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    “will be better than this one” not “will be worse.” Sorry!

  75. Miquayla
    March 4, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Why can men get sealed to as many women as they marry “in (this) life” while women have to be dead and have to have someone else do the work for them? If it’s all sorted out after this life for one gender, why not the other? Is it a priesthood thing? Is it custom? Is it policy only, or does it speak to doctrine?

    Does Heavenly Mother have other husbands, perhaps? Maybe even sealed to the Holy Ghost?

  76. A. Greenwood
    March 4, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    “Where is the evidence of “equality” in the CK? Could you define it for me?”

    Let me get this straight. You believe that there is no evidence of equality in the Celestial Kingdom, but you don’t know what equality is?

    OK, cheap shot. :)

    By equality I mean having the same power, attributes, abilities, character, etc., as God. I mean being a co-heir with Christ, who inherits all the Father hath. I mean being as God is.

  77. annegb
    March 4, 2005 at 9:11 pm

    Hey Miquayla (I hope I spelled that right),

    I want to be a fly on the wall when you see how cool it is in the other side. I will be jumping up and down squealing delightedly, “I told you so, I told you so!”

  78. Miquayla
    March 4, 2005 at 9:48 pm


  79. Sheri Lynn
    March 4, 2005 at 11:46 pm

    I want to be on the other side–gosh, I’m so depressed tonight I’d go this second if I could get mapquest to give me the map–but I kind of hope I don’t have to be a FLY there. Though the aerobatics look cool, I get motion sick just thinking about it. Is there celestial dramamine?

  80. March 5, 2005 at 2:11 pm


    The cheap shot wasn’t needed, but I’ll forgive you because of the smiley. I know what I think equality is. I was trying to find out what you think it is, because either our definitions of it vary or our understanding of the CK does.

    So to take this further, let’s assume you reach the CK, and we’ll ignore the internal divisions of the CK for now. Will be “equal” to Joseph Smith? To Jesus? To God? By this do you include equal in glory?

    The book of Abraham makes it pretty clear that if there are two things they will not be equal. Also the D&C makes it clear that what we attain in this life will give us an advantage in the next. Maybe that isn’t a permanent advantage, but no exception is mentioned.

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